First let me tell you what, in my opinion, design is not.
A few years ago everything was ‘designer’ from boutiques to baby clothes, from wheel barrows to wives (for Christ sake). Marketers and PR agencies scrabbled around to get ‘designer label’ status for everything they were peddling. Some labels really are ‘designer’s labels’ – Conran and Ikea spring to mind. Their products are designed to be functional and, in a minimalist way, they have mass market appeal. But most rag trade tat – however expensive it is – is nothing to do with design often because it is a badly cut cheap imitation of fashion wear or ‘technical’ clothing that doesn’t do the job it claims to do (like keep out the rain). Most hotels are no more worthy of having the ‘designer’ label than the average sink estate or public lavvy – they are functional and yet so obviously lacking that special something that is design. That je ne sais quoi that touches your very heart and soul.
In the brutalist sixties I was taught that design was all to do with function – for years I spouted on about design being ‘a problem solving activity’. Softened by age I know now that aesthetics play their part too: Bang & Olufsen have it over Roberts radios and Frank Lloyd Wright over Mies van der Rohe. Less is more but with something, somehow… pleasing mingled in. There is deep-rooted honesty and integrity in Shaker furniture but that extra elusive ingredient that is true design is woefully missing in the Magnet kitchens that have ripped off the Shaker name.
These days the word ‘brand’ has taken over from ‘designer’. People eat, sleep and positively worship brands. They aren’t quite sure what a brand is but they know it’s more than the logo. The only thing the logos of the world’s favourite brands have in common is the crass mediocrity of their design. Nike’s tick and Innocent’s halo were scribbled on napkins, BT’s was designed for a product and Star Bucks is downright creepy. But the concept of brands is closer to what design is than the ‘designer label’ totem.
A definition of brand used ad nauseam in our studio is that it’s a promise, an experience and a memory. It’s almost mystical what Apple does with its new store openings and product launches are like the second coming. But at the heart of it all is great products that function well with no superfluous decoration. That precious quality whereby nothing could be added or taken away to make it better.
Dictionary definitions of design include the other, darker, manipulative application of design: having designs on… concerning hidden, underhand plotting.
Hijacked by the money men, design isn’t a frivolous label stuck on a wheel barrow. It’s a seductive mistress like Google’s home page, like Apple’s iPhone, like Dyson’s cleaner – it does the job beautifully.
Design is the religion of the consumer. Design is power.